When it comes to customer service strategies, Jeff didn't just read the book - he wrote it! He's the author of the best-selling business books, Becoming a Service Icon in 90 Minutes a Month and Influence with Ease. He is a Hall of Fame motivational speaker and has produced several training tools. His Influence with Ease® column has been syndicated and featured in over 200 business and on-line publications.
5 unwritten rules of customer confidentiality
Did you ever have a potential customer who should have been excited about doing business with you but seemed reserved? It happened in a weird way for me. The senior managers seated around the boardroom table were excited about their new technology that would disrupt their market and separate them from every competitor. They had brought me in to help craft their sales message and to eventually train their reps on how to introduce it to their customers. Along with their excitement though, I sensed some tension. So as the VP of Marketing introduces me, my first remark to the brass is, “I know this goes without saying. I just want it known for the record that everything we discuss here will be treated by me as confidential.” I immediately noticed this huge look of relief on the face of the CEO. From that point on, things went just fine.
Customers may not feel comfortable asking you for discretion, but they always appreciate it. Unfortunately, in today’s world of social media oversharing, coffee shops used as offices, and cell phones that record anything anywhere, confidentiality seems to be backsliding into a state of dangerous decline. That’s why you can gain tremendous trust with customers by simply following these 5 unwritten rules of customer confidentiality. Ignore them at your peril.
Rule #1. Know that you are in a position of trust
We’ve all heard of doctor/patient confidentiality and lawyer/client privilege. Doctors and lawyers are sworn to secrecy about their customers’ affairs for good reason. Your customers deserve the same discretion from you. When you talk to others about your customers, assume that the customer is in the room with you, or will read everything you post or write about them. If what you’re sharing isn’t complimentary and publically known, then keep it to yourself.
Rule #2. Remember Starbucks isn’t a confession both
I once hired a consultant who was based in another city to do some work on our website. We scheduled a conversation via Zoom about my brand and target market. To my dismay, he logs into the call from a coffee shop. Throughout our conversation, I’m seeing customers come and go in the background. Not only was it distracting, it felt like a violation of my privacy as a client. There are good reasons why lawyers and accountants won’t host you in their office. Instead meetings are held in a private meeting room. One reason is that you shouldn’t see files lying on their desk from other clients who may be under legal investigation, filing for bankruptcy, etc. Another is so your meeting will not be seen or overheard by others. Coffee shops are for casual coffee; not for doing business.
Rule #3. There’s a difference between small talk and prying
Ever have this happen to you in a restaurant while you’re paying for the meal? The server is standing by your table waiting for you to input your credit card on the portable device and asks, “So what are your plans for the rest of the day (evening, weekend, whatever)?” Pardon? When did our relationship as patron/ server evolve to the intimacy of me needing to share my weekend plans? The key to making small talk sound natural and appropriate is context and relevance. Unless you’ve been chatting about weekend plans with that person, better to stick to safe topics like the weather as in, “So you’re heading outside… have you heard a forecast?”
Rule #4. Yes, your cell phone conversation is annoying
People who talk at length on cell phones around other people sound like jackasses. Seriously. It reflects a total lack of self awareness and distain for basic civility. It also tells people around them they don’t respect the privacy of the person on the other end of the phone. They’re damaging their own reputation and are too oblivious to realize it. Don’t be one of them. Move to a quiet area and lower your voice.
Rule #5. Strong feelings don’t necessitate expressing them
This is perhaps the most important confidentiality lesson at work and in life. We can’t un-say, un-post, or un-tweet our opinions and observations. No doubt you can think of numerous examples at work and in the news where a little discretion and self-restraint would have saved significant fallout. While it’s tempting to be drawn into adding our two cents to a discussion, perhaps the greatest contribution we can make to the relationship is remaining silent. We hope in turn that when we say or do something less than brilliant, others won’t share it with the world. Ironically, kindness and maturity are often best reflected – and trust is sometimes most strongly earned – by simply shutting up.
Do your team members ever give you this excuse when your company loses a customer, “Our competitors are hammering us on price. That’s why we’re losing business.” It’s a convenient excuse that puts the blame on those nasty competitors. But the truth is, most customers don’t buy based on price alone. If that were true we’d all live in the cheapest homes, buy the cheapest vehicles, and every time we went out to eat, we’d always eat fast food. As you know, customers buy based on overall perceived value. The question becomes, what do today’s customer value – to such a degree they will willingly pay a premium? The answers may surprise you.
What customers really want
Having worked with over 400 client organizations and conducted surveys of over 11,000 of their customers, we discovered there are some 35 factors that customers consider (often subconsciously) when they decide to pay a premium. Here are two that I talk about in my training seminars and speeches.
Selection is Over Rated
Today’s customers suffer from decision fatigue. It begins first thing in the morning when they decide what to wear, which lane to drive in, and which of the hundreds of emails or posts on their portable devices are worth their attention. So when it comes to buying something, the last thing customers want is a large selection that makes choosing complicated.
What customers really want in today’s world of too much clutter is what I call A.I.D. – Analysis, Interpretation, and Direction. Customers want you to analyze the various options available for that customer, interpret those options based on the customer’s individual needs, and direct the customer to a maximum of 3 choices. In other words, for complex purchases customers don’t want to work with an order taker. What they value is a trusted advisor.
Don’t be better, be different
When it comes to discussing your offerings with potential customers, claiming your product or service is better than the competition, won’t likely motivate them to switch to you. Chances are your established competitors are not selling junk. In customers’ minds, if what they’re currently buying is reasonably good, then it’s not worth the risk and hassle of switching over to you for a slight improvement in quality. Unless you’re offering something that provides a different – as opposed to better – way to achieve an outcome, customers often stick with the devil they know.
That brings us to how you communicate your uniqueness. After listening to the customer’s specific needs, describe to them the conventional solutions to their particular problem. Then explain that given the customer’s unique needs, conventional approaches won’t achieve the desired outcome, and how they may instead create unintended negative consequences. Then reveal how you are bringing a different type of solution; one that addresses their unique needs while avoiding undesirable consequences. Now the customer sees you as significantly different and price becomes less relevant.
Bottom line – Trying to beat your competitors’ prices is rarely a profitable strategy; especially if you’re not a huge organization with massive economies of scale. Instead, remember that what customers really want is greater overall value. Often getting your customers to move beyond price simply means training your team members to change the way they talk with customers. To boost your profits and market share, could it be time for a tune-up of your team’s customer communications skills?
If you’ve participated in one of my training sessions, you know I share tips on how to earn trust with customers; even those who are frustrated or are making grudge purchases. When it comes to doing business, trusting someone is way more important that having lots in common or liking someone. One of the most powerful ways of earning trust with new customers is down-selling. That’s when customers may be thinking about buying something that goes beyond what they really need. For example, they may be considering ordering a custom product or service that’s more expensive, and because it’s custom, will delay delivery. You’d suggest an alternative which suits their purposes just fine, is less expensive, and speeds the process considerably. Your organization may make less money in the short term, but you’ll build huge trust equity that pays greater dividends long term. The key is everyone in the organization needs to be aligned in doing what’s right for the customer.
Quick – which common words do you use when responding to a request from a customer or coworker? In this short video clip I share a tip on how to convey a positive attitude – even when dealing with customers who are tired, rushed or stressed. Side note: since I posted this tip some years ago, it’s received over 50,000 views. Feel free to forward it to anyone who deals with demanding customers.
Researchers at the University of Copenhagen studied which personality traits and behaviors lead to people earning the most money over their careers. The results may surprise you. When considering things like being an extrovert, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to experience, the single factor that had the most impact on earnings – conscientiousness. If you’ve been reading my tips or books or ever attended one of my live presentations you’ll know my overriding message is about gaining and keeping trust. Yes, being friendly is fine. But it isn’t nearly as important as being reliable. Want to make more money? Don’t make excuses. Keep your promises.
- Are customers sometimes unclear about the process of doing business with you?
- Are there often extra charges or time requirements that surprise customers?
- Do customers contact you to request information that’s already available online?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, the problem is not likely your customers. The problem is your procedures are more complex than they need to be. The solution is not uploading more documents to hard to find on your web-pages. The real call to action is for you to clarify, and more importantly, simplify. The harder customers have to work to find out what’s really involved in doing business with you, the more distrustful and resentful they will be. Bottom line – a confused customer is a reluctant customer.
This may be surprising, but few people actually want to do business with you. By that I mean people may want the benefits of your products and services. But the actual process of arranging for your services may be more of a have to do than a want to do. That’s why it’s often a mistake to ask customer or co-workers questions such as, “Would you like me to …?” or “Do you want me to…?” Frankly, they don’t want to go through the decision process at all. Instead, word your questions along the lines of, “Would it make sense for us to…” “Would it be helpful if I…?” “Would it be useful…?” In general, we get better results with questions that focus on resolving the customer’s problem, than with questions that encourage them to think about their mood.
There have been volumes written on how to grow your business and advance your career. Many encourage you to network and get noticed by the right people. After some two decades of working with senior managers and observing what really impresses them from their employees, I’ve found that trying to be popular is the last thing that works for employees. The real secret to winning customers and being valued by senior managers is profoundly simple: keep your promises no matter what it costs you. That means making clear commitments. Telling others, “I’ll try” or “I’ll do my best.” is saying you have no idea if you’re really capable, so you won’t make a firm commitment. Better to say no up-front than say I’ll try and give excuses later. In today’s world of wishy-washiness, just the act of making clear promises – and keeping them no matter what – makes you stand-out.
I used to shudder when people described what I do for a living as being a ‘Motivational Speaker’. I’ve always believed you can’t motivate anyone to do anything they don’t want to do. Years ago, as a Karate instructor, I realized that people improved much faster when you not only helped them learn techniques, but why certain movements were more efficient. Similarly, having conducted customer service speeches and seminars for over 25 years, I found the same principle applies. Pep rally type messages don’t create lasting change with capable professionals. Employees get temporarily pumped-up, but it wears off. Instead, as you share reminders and strategies, people also need to understand why… why this approach is better; for customers, for your organization, and for themselves . Sharing why to do something is just as important as what to do. Motivation is more about motive than mood.
A manager client expressed concern that a few of his employees didn’t seem to get who their customers are. He explained, “They’re attentive to external customers. But when responding to requests from internal customers (co-workers), they’re lackadaisical.” Unfortunately, he isn’t alone. Increasingly, I’m hearing from managers about headaches created when:
- Employees either neglect to submit documentation needed by other departments, or they do so with inaccurate or incomplete information.
- People need to ask co-workers repeatedly for the same services or paperwork.
- Employees are polite with external customers, but blunt – and sometimes insulting behind those customers’ backs – with co-workers.
That’s why one of the first topics we cover in my customer service training seminars is the definition of customers. It’s more than external customers. It’s anyone needing your service; including co-workers. Anyone who thinks they don’t have customers doesn’t get it. And their managers are noticing.
REDUCE CUSTOMER CONFLICTS
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